Best Shots Reviews: JLA #7, THOR #11, More

Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Justice League of America #7
Written by Geoff Johns & Jeff Lemire
Art by Dough Mahnke
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

For all the false starts and misdirection of the New 52, the first major crossover in “Trinity War” has come together nicely. While there is still the pervading sense that this is merely a set-up for the next major event, the “Forever Evil” villains month, there’s no denying that it has been a hell of a ride so far. With this fourth proper chapter in the saga, tie-ins notwithstanding, all of the previously disparate elements from the various series begin to coalesce into something major.

As Pandora tries to recruit Lex Luthor into her plan to open the mysterious box, the various Justice Leagues get closer to finding out the truth about Superman’s bout of ‘roid rage that resulted in a less than optimal outcome for Doctor Light. Uncovering the existence of the Secret Society, the various Leagues establish that they have been manipulated, and that the villains are planning something big. Something so big, in fact, that it will result in a line-wide crossover event, complete with 1990s style holographic covers.

The opening pages of Justice League of America seem like they have taken the Age of Ultron methodology of changing gears midstream, until the appearance of Pandora firmly grounds the issue in the world of the Trinity War. Indeed, this issue brings many of the moving parts in line with each other, from the seemingly standalone piece in Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #11 last week to the bigger events in the main “Trinity War” tie-ins. What is becoming evident is that no character is being left out in this tightly interwoven series, with the possible exception of the nebulous costumed cheerleader Vibe.

Doug Mahnke is the go-to person for art duties on these wide-sweeping sagas, having delivered some of the most jaw-droppingly good renderings of 2013 (so far) with Green Lantern #20 just a few months ago. Not only does he get to play with virtually ever crayon in the box with this set of characters, but there is some truly impressive work here. The horrific site of watching Martian Manhunter go to work on Doctor Psycho’s brain is terrifying, but is tempered by several heroic splash pages filled with the requisite moments that will twitterpate fans no end. The final panel featuring Wonder Woman is the stuff cliffhangers are made for.

Rising from the ashes of Justice League International, this series may have taken a few months to find its feet. Yet what this event has so far achieved for the series is wrapping it inside the outstretched arms of the New 52, and embracing it as if it were a child of its own. The titular team was created to bring down the Justice League, but in narrative terms, they are doing a fine job complementing that title on a monthly basis.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Thor: God of Thunder #11
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Esad Ribic and Ive Svorcina
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

And Jason Aaron sticks the landing!

It's been a long road for Thor: God of Thunder, as Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic assembled three thunder gods from three separate eras to take on the threat of Gorr the God Butcher. While occasionally the story dragged over the course of 11 issues, Aaron and Ribic definitely close this arc with style, as they show just why Thor is the strongest god there is.

What is perhaps most surprising about this conclusion is, from a beat-by-beat standpoint, there's not a tremendous amount that happens in this issue, as the warriors Thor race to stop the shockwaves from Gorr's God Bomb, which rips through time and space to destroy deities from all eras. But Aaron wisely ties into the main theme of Thor - worthiness - by emphasizing the thunder god's tenacity, strength and courage. As the modern-day Thor takes on the forces of virulent shadow all by himself, Aaron hits the nail on the head: "Even if he had been the last god left alive in all the universe... he still would have been god enough."

In addition, Aaron also ties up a lot of thematic threads for the rest of his characters. Young Thor, for example, gets a lesson about his future from Old King Thor vis-a-vis his relationships with his father Odin and his brother Loki. The present-day Thor, meanwhile, gets a nice callback to the series' opening, when Thor responds to a prayer from the other side of the universe. Even Gorr is defeated philosophically as well as physically, as it is revealed he has become everything that he had sworn to destroy.

Artwise, Esad Ribic absolutely nails the conclusion. While he started off this series with some issues in his composition, he's absolutely made it work here - there's a great moment where Thor sits in the epicenter of the bomb, black tendrils stabbing into his hammer and eyes as the thunder god's body twists in pain. Watching Thor stand triumphant as he holds not one, but two Mjolnirs is one of the most badass moments in the entire series, and even Gorr steals the show with how expressive he looks as he sees just how badly his plans have gone awry. He also does a great job at differentiating the various Thors, particularly as Aaron wraps up his epilogue.

In today's era of on-to-the-next-one superhero storytelling, it's really great to see a strong conclusion like Thor: God of Thunder #11. There's action, there's philosophy, there's even a bit of poetry involved - this is the sort of high-octane Thor story you've been waiting for. This is definitely worth a look.

Credit: Image Comics

Mice Templar v4 #6
Written by Bryan J.L. Glass
Art by Victor Santos and Serena Guerra
Lettering by James H. Glass
Published by Image Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

Issue #6 continues to lift the curtain behind the fall of the Templar and Icarus’ ascension to the throne to an even greater extent as we hear from Pilot, Lorilie, Icarus, Naespal, and E’tan. It’s difficult for many comics to strike a balance for even one to two narrators let alone five! Yet, Santos and Guerra do a superb job of setting up Glass’ story so the reader shifts from one speaker to the next without being jarred out of the reading experience. This is accomplished through a variety of ways: from panels that bleed into the next sections to details as subtle as shifting the colors of the word balloons to contrast one speaker from another. It’s not until the story is over that one realizes how many different characters participated in this sort of communal history lesson. Admittedly, the issue requires a slow and careful reading as it is an intricately woven story that could lead to some confusion over point of view if readers try to rush through it. Those who take their time, however, will come to see the ways this one, shared experience of a peoples’ fall continues to pain them years later and inform the way in which they understand those events. Although it was a moment of costly triumph for some, it was also a devastating tragedy for others. And with such a rich story, why would you want to rush it?

I don’t mean to be overly vague with regards to the specifics of the storyline but there are a few reasons: First, I don’t want to spoil it for those readers who’ve been following along. All I will say is this issue should prove highly satisfying in providing an even clearer picture of the motivations for the prime catalysts behind the fall of the Templars and current state of the kingdom. Second, those reading this review who would be interested in checking this title out for the first time – and I cannot recommend it enough – would the particulars of this issue wouldn’t make as much sense. Bryan J.L. Glass has done a fine job of providing jumping on points to the series (Issues #1 and #4 of Vol. 4 come to mind), but this issue is clearly a necessary building block to help set the stage for the entire series’ grand finale some eight to ten issues from now. Readers who have followed Karic’s journey since the rats first invaded Cricket’s Hollow in vol. 1 no doubt found the influence of Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero of a Thousand Faces, throughout the young Templar-to-be’s journeys. Yet, it is in this final volume Glass takes the standard trope of the hero’s journey and begins to really stand it on its head. Therefore, I’d argue that for Issue #6 to be truly appreciated, it’s important to have at least read the previous five issues of this volume – if not the entire series.

In all honesty, I continue to find this series to be one of the best on newsstands every month. Victor Santos and Serena Guerra’s artwork is dynamic and does an admirable job of capturing the reader’s eye in every panel. There are times in some comics where it is clear the pencils and inks lack detail and rely too heavily on the colorist to help flesh out the rest of the images contained therein. Not so with Mice Templar. Issue #6 is a great example of how this artistic team is truly performing together at their peak. Transitions are effectively conveyed through a combination of shifting color palettes and lines. While strong, vibrant colors with more defining inks help demarcate the present-day storyline, the artistic team employs a sort of wash effect with slightly more two-dimensional character and setting depictions as a means of signifying flashbacks to the past. Glass and his artistic collaborators prove adroit in the way they collectively weave these multiple threads to avoid confusing readers while still bringing the greater narrative together in a satisfying way. While I am looking forward to adding the trade paperbacks to my collection as well, it’s too good of a story to “trade wait” on, so check this out.

Credit: DC Comics

Batgirl #23
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Fernando Pasarin, Jonathan Glapion and Blond
Lettering by Dezi Sienty
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Gail Simone continues adding the tension between the Barbara Gordon/Batgirl/Commissioner Gordon relationship and with the beginning of the new arc it pretty much solidifies things are about to get trickier.

The big problem I have with Simone is some of her dialogue. In comparison to other Bat-books, it just feels simpler and less intricate. While it's fun to see Barbara actually enjoying life, or at least trying to, it doesn't last long and it goes back more doom and gloom scenarios of her being harassed at the mall and almost taking a guy out. The stereotypical looking punks were a nice touch but felt a little too bit of an ABC Afterschool Special.

The most interesting take on this issue is the deal with Ricky, Babs' quasi-boyfriend and love interest, who gets in the line of cross fire between the Gordon's squadron and the perp holding Ricky's brother hostage. Well, from the get-go we might have figured out his fate similarly to Natalya's situation over at The Dark Knight or even back in Earth-2 with Sam. We as readers should know when a love interest is getting "fridged," and it's just interesting to see Simone take part in the trend. Just another (presumably) dead body to motivate the protagonist.

Another thing that gripes me here is the treatment of Gordon and how he is suddenly the most daft person in Gotham with a badge. Yes, he has reasons to be mournful and feel the burden of his dead (but not really dead) son being "killed" in front of him. That's a lot for a parent to bear. However, his whole grumble-grumble attitude is just so different from the rest of his appearances, it's hard not to notice. The fact that Simone actually ties this story with an earlier arc with Knightfall makes it feel more complete.

The upside to this book is the killer art, done almost perfectly by Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion. Nothing on the pages is wasted and it fills the book with the proper atmosphere and environment you've come to expect from the likes of Greg Capullo and Ethan Van Sciver. The backgrounds are ornate and rich with detail, with some great expressions, though Ricky's sad face is almost laughable and didn't come across as sad as it does he's suffering from some sort of stomach bug. Blond's colors are spot-on, too. The mall scene stands out as things get are a bit bright and fun, but the rest of the book just feels too moody and dull and doesn't capture the action well. Glapion has a smoother look to his inks here and doesn't over render as much as he did with Capullo over on Batman giving the characters a balanced look between realistic and animated.

The thing about that Batgirl I just don't see is the constant overpraise and me feeling like I'm missing something. It could simply be a case of expectations versus realty, or it could be time for somebody else to carry Babs' adventures to new heights.

Credit: DC Comics

Suicide Squad #23
Written by Ales Kot
Art by Rick Leonardi, Andy Owens, Derek Fridolfs, Marc Deering and Brad Anderson
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 3 out of 10

Things happen in the comic book industry, no doubt about it. Priorities change, deals need to be made, creators get switched from book to book, deadlines loom, and sometimes you have to change things up in order to just get the damn book out at all.

But that all said, I can't help but read Suicide Squad #23 and ask: what were they thinking?

Now, this is coming from someone who downright adored Ales Kot and Patrick Zircher's run on the book up to this point. It read like a lighter version of Warren Ellis's Thunderbolts, with a sick sense of humor buoying this stone-cold band of government-indentured sociopaths. Yet when Kot announced less than two issues into his run that he would be off the book by his fourth installment - and based on his posts on Twitter, it seeming like he didn't quite see this coming - things felt a little fishy. And with Kot's final installment, it seems like DC is adding insult to injury, with Patrick Zircher abruptly vanishing from the book, and Rick Leonardi being shoved awkwardly in his place.

The result is a conclusion that feels rushed from just about every angle. Considering Kot ended last issue on a smart cliffhanger dealing with the fatal ramifications of the Samsara Serum, suddenly injecting Team 7 alum John Lynch as the Squad's latest target is abrupt enough to give you whiplash. If you don't know who Lynch is, unfortunately this isn't the place to find out, as he comes off as more of a generic baddie for the Squad to hunt. While Kot does get some of the quirky interpersonal dynamics down pat - there's a moment where King Shark invites Deadshot out for some kombucha that is just surreal and funny - the actual action just comes out of nowhere. There's no tension for the Squad as they take on a band of superpowered bodyguards, since Waller and company seem to have enough weapons to pull out of nowhere that they never truly were in danger.

That said, I think these issues with the script - which almost assuredly reflect Kot suddenly being yanked off the book - are compounded by the sudden shift in art. The art is perhaps the most frustrating part of this book, namely because Rick Leonardi is such a drastic shift in tone and quality from Patrick Zircher. I don't mean to pick on the guy, but I can't help but wonder why DC picked this particular artist to fill in for the last issue of this arc: Whereas Zircher was rendered, moody and cinematic, Leonardi and his band of inkers feels really flat, with his characters having almost no expressiveness whatsoever. That winds up being a huge problem for selling Kot's lighthearted narration, as there's no dark irony to all this talk about love and control.

Indeed, Leonardi's clean linework actually makes this book of black ops killers look upbeat and sunny, particularly with his lack of backgrounds and Brad Anderson's bright colors - it's understandable if Zircher had another project he needed to work on, but it feels downright criminal to suddenly shoehorn Leonardi into a book like this, particularly in the final issue. At this point, with this jarring change in artwork, DC doesn't even have the ability to put out a consistent trade for Kot's short run, which is just a travesty.

Talk about a disappointment. I'm not sure what their reasons were, but DC Comics has definitely fumbled the ball with their handling of Suicide Squad. What was once a black action comedy of surprising quality has choked at the finish line, as Ales Kot has been yanked off the book before he could really strut his stuff. There were so many plot threads that will likely remain untouched after his departures, as Matt Kindt becomes the latest writer to take on this increasingly hopeless title. Perhaps it's fitting that a book called Suicide Squad is the book that winds up shooting itself in the foot.

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